Olympic Oarsman James Crowden Dies

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Cambridge winning 1951 Blue Boat. James Crowden is in the three seat.

3 October 2016

James Crowden, former High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely and Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, passed away on 24 September, at the age of 88. Crowden was a Cambridge Blue, European champion, Olympic oarsman and Henley Steward.

James Crowden was born in Tilney All Saints in 1927. He attended King’s School and then Bedford School, where he began to row. Crowden was in the school crew that won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in 1946, when the Cup was presented by the future Queen. Crowden then went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, and in 1949, he won the Colquhoun Sculls. At the 1950 European Championships in Milan, Italy, Cambridge, with Crowden in the crew, took a bronze medal in the eights.

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James Crowden, winner of the 1949 Colquhoun Sculls at Cambridge University. Image from Pembroke College’s website.

One year later, in 1951, Crowden – in the three seat – was a member of the Light Blue crew that easily beat Oxford in The Boat Race after that the Oxford crew initially sank in the first attempt to race. A week later, the Cambridge crew went on two victorious contests in the United States first beating Yale on the Housatonic River, close to New Haven, and then Harvard in Boston. At Henley, Crowden was in the crews that took the Ladies’ Plate and Silver Goblets (with Brian Lloyd). In August, the Cambridge eight raced at the European Championships at Mâcon, France, where they became European champions.

James Crowden shaking hands with His Majesty King George VI at a ceremony at King’s College after the Cambridge crew came home from their successful trip to the United States.
James Crowden shaking hands with His Majesty King George VI at a ceremony at King’s College after the Cambridge crew came home from their successful trip to the United States.

The following year, Crowden, now president, was in the Cambridge crew that lost with a canvas to Oxford in what is renowned as the ‘Blizzard Boat Race’, rowed on a bitterly cold day with heavy snowfall. At the 1952 Olympic rowing regatta in Helsinki, Crowden’s coxless four took a fourth place in the final. He then continued to coach Cambridge crews on and off for 20 years, especially helping Pembroke College’s Men’s first eight, including the 1976, 1977, 1978, 1985 and 1986 Mays Head of the River crews.

Crowden was High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely in 1970 and Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire between 1992 and 2002. Crowden was a vice president of the British Olympic Association and a Henley Royal Regatta Steward. He was instrumental in the restoration of Ely and Peterborough cathedrals and an honorary Fellow of Pembroke College.

010528-F-2021R-017 Senior Airman Rebecca A. Baucum (left) passes a wreath to Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire James Crowden during the Madingley Memorial Day Commemorative Service on May 28, 2001, at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery, Coton, Cambridge, England. This year marks the 57th annual memorial service honoring the American servicemen and women who are buried here and those listed on the Wall of the Missing. The cemetery was dedicated on July 16, 1956, as the only permanent American World War II cemetery in the British Isles. Baucum is attached to the 48th Communication Squadron, 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath. DoD photo by Airman 1st Class Joanna E. Reihle, U.S. Air Force. (Released)
In this photograph, Senior Airman Rebecca A. Baucum (left) passes a wreath to Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire James Crowden during the Madingley Memorial Day Commemorative Service on May 28, 2001, at the Cambridge American Military Cemetery, Coton, Cambridge, England. Photo by Airman 1st Class Joanna E. Reihle, U.S. Air Force. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense.

James Crowden’s friend, Chris Howes, a former member of Bedford RC and St Neots RC and who also did some coaching at Isle Ely RC and who went to Magdalen College, Oxford, has sent HTBS some recollections of Crowden. Howes writes:

James was a gentleman of the ‘Old School’, with a lifelong passion for rowing.

I first met James in the late 1990s when, as Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, he presented the prizes at St Neots Regatta. In 1998-1999, my wife was Mayor of St Neots, which made me the Mayor’s Consort, or as my rowing pals teased me ‘the lady mayoress’! There was a move afoot to dress me appropriately for my home regatta in a nice frock and pearls! However, as the Queen’s representative was due, I decided this would be discourteous and narrowly escaped being forced to dress in drag. James was most amused when I later told him of his narrow escape!

During my wife’s Mayorial term, we were invited to the chairman of the local district council’s civic ball. At these events, guests stand in an orderly queue to be presented to the hosts. The chairman was a widowed lady and the ever gallant Lord Lieutenant had volunteered to act as her Consort. Just as my wife and I reached the head of the queue there was a commotion behind us as the then current Prime Minister and his wife arrived. ‘Please stand in front of us Mr Major,’ I said. The Prime Minister said that he didn’t want to ‘queue jump’ so joined immediately behind us. The chairman of the district council was hugely excited when she saw that her VIP guest had arrived and really didn’t want to spend too long a time greeting my wife and me (not least because we are of a different political persuasion to her). Nevertheless, her attempts to brush us out of the way were thwarted by her Consort for the night, the Lord Lieutenant. He grasped me firmly by the hand, and knowing me as a rowing man (albeit a dark blue supporter) engaged me in discussion about the recent Boat Race. Even a Prime Minister has to wait when there’s rowing to be discussed.

James used to stand proud in his British Olympic rowing blazer at the annual oarsmen’s service at Fen Ditton, and I hope that such a service of remembrance will present the opportunity to celebrate the life of an ‘old style gentleman’, and a rowing man through and through.

James Gee Pascoe Crowden was born on 14 November 1927 and died on 24 September 2016.

Special thanks to Chris Howes!

Sources:
FISA 1892 – 1992: The FISA Centenary Book (1992) by Jean-Louis Meuret
Chris Howes
Newspaper Cambs Times
Pembroke College website
The Boat Race (1954) by Gordon Ross
Wikipedia.org

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